High Infidelity [OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS]

This review of Other Voices, Other Rooms appeared in the February 13, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. I’m not positive that the second image I’ve used to represent Sokurov’s Oriental Elegy actually comes from that video and not from another Sokurov work, but it evokes my memory of that video so well that I hope I can be granted poetic license for this. – J.R.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

0 (worthless)

Directed by David Rocksavage

Written by Sara Flanigan and Rocksavage

With Lothaire Bluteau, Anna Thomson, David Speck, April Turner, and Frank Taylor.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

I cannot tell a lie: my first exposure to two great tragic novels, Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), was the dreadful Hollywood adaptations released during my teens, both of which had happy endings. As silly as these movies were — Vincent J. Donehue’s Lonelyhearts (1958) and Martin Ritt’s The Sound and the Fury (1959) — they piqued my interest in the original novels, and I discovered, among many other things, the blatant inadequacy of the movie versions.

The same thing could happen to a teenager attending the dreadful film adaptation of Truman Capote’s first published novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) — not a novel of the same caliber as West’s and Faulkner’s, though still a work of real distinction, from his best period — but the odds are slim.… Read more »

Modern Messiah [JESUS OF MONTREAL]

From the Chicago Reader (July 20, 1990). — J.R.

JESUS OF MONTREAL

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Denys Arcand

With Lothaire Bluteau, Catherine Wilkening, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Remy Girard, Robert Lepage, Gilles Pelletier, Yves Jacques, and Arcand.

It must have been about 30 years ago that I saw Jules Dassin’s He Who Must Die, a popular art-house movie at the time and one of my first foreign films. Dassin, an American expatriate chased to Europe by the Hollywood blacklist, was a highly skilled film noir director whose best efforts included The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway, and Night and the City. He Who Must Die, set on Crete in 1921, was a French picture based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel The Greek Passion, concerning the performers in a passion play whose theatrical roles take over their real lives as they suffer from Turkish oppression; the theme was that if Christ came back today, he would be crucified all over again.

I was a teenager at the time, and being none too versed in what was considered sophisticated in film in 1959, I was moved to tears. This was at a time when the French New Wave had barely made a ripple in the American consciousness, and shortly before Dassin’s film was ridiculed by critics I admired, like Pauline Kael and Dwight Macdonald, as the acme of arty pretension.… Read more »

Through the Past, Darkly [GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI & THE CRUCIBLE]

From the Chicago Reader (December 20, 1996). — J.R.

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Ghosts of Mississippi

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Rob Reiner

Written by Lewis Colick

With Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Ladd, Bonnie Bartlett, Bill Cobbs, William H. Macy, Virginia Madsen, and Michael O’Keefe.

The Crucible

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Written by Arthur Miller

With Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones, Peter Vaughan, and Karron Graves.

“This story is true,” reads the opening title of Ghosts of Mississippi, a movie about the murder of NAACP activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, in June 1963, and the conviction of his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, which took a little more than 30 years.

“This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian,” Arthur Miller wrote in a note prefacing his 1953 play The Crucible, which depicts events that occurred in 1692, and which has now been turned into a movie adapted by Miller. Miller went on to detail the ways he’d changed history — he sometimes fused many people into one character, and he made a central character, Abigail, older.… Read more »

Our Heroes (QUIZ SHOW)

From the Chicago Reader (September 23, 1994). — J.R.

QUIZ SHOW ***

(A must-see)

Directed by Robert Redford

Written by Paul Attanasio

With Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, David Paymer, Christopher McDonald, Elizabeth Wilson, and Paul Scofield.

Behind the opening and closing credits of Quiz Show we hear two different pop versions of “Mack the Knife” — Bobby Darin’s bright, Lyle Lovett’s funereal — perhaps an indication that director Robert Redford has something faintly Brechtian in mind. If so, probably the most relevant Brecht passage is the exchange that concludes the 12th scene of Galileo, when Andrea, the son of Galileo’s housekeeper, quotes the maxim “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” Galileo replies, “No, Andrea: ‘Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’”

On the other hand, this is Robert Redford we’re talking about, who’s been a hero in this unhappy land for the past three decades, not someone who’s ever been known to seriously rock any boats. A better indication of what makes Quiz Show so interesting, suggestive, and fruitful (if not Brechtian) is the showroom spiel for a glittering Chrysler 300 given to the movie’s hero, congressional investigator Richard N. Goodwin, shown out shopping just before the opening credits.… Read more »

Imported From Hong Kong [MR. COCONUT & KING OF CHESS]

From the Chicago Reader (March 20, 1992). — J.R.

 

MR. COCONUT

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Clifton Ko

Written by Ko, Michael Hui, and Raymond Wong

With Hui, Wong, Olivia Cheng, Ricky Hui, Maria Cordero, and Joi Wong.

KING OF CHESS

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Yim Ho and Tsui Hark

Written by Yim and Tony Leung

With Leung, John Sham, Yong Lin, Yia Ho, King Shin Chien, and Chan Koon Cheung.

450c5e100a576972b5dc85c0a24988d7 Mr. Coconut[DVDRip]

Past, present or future . . . China will always belong to the Chinese people. — opening title in King of Chess

In this country there is probably no important national cinema more neglected than the Chinese — actually a transnational entity, as I’m defining it here, including movies from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. And probably no programmer in this country is more dedicated to making Chinese cinema known than Barbara Scharres, director of the Film Center.

I have to admit to a certain resistance to Chinese cinema in the past, and to Hong Kong movies in particular. It’s a bias shared by many of my colleagues, for reasons that are in part self-serving: if we were to suddenly acknowledge the importance of Hong Kong movies, we’d be forced to acknowledge many years of negligence on our part, and obliged to admit an embarrassing lack of knowledge and sophistication on the subject.… Read more »

Bucking the Remake-and-Sequel Syndrome: The 40 Best Movies of 2002

From the Chicago Reader (January 10, 2003), where it was printed under the title “Against the Tide”. — J.R.

While putting together a collection of my film pieces for an upcoming book I included an appendix listing my 1,000 favorite films and videos made between 1895 and the present — features and shorts, live action and animation, narrative and experimental. The point was to cite not the works I consider the most important historically but the ones that still provide me with the most pleasure and edification.

This took more work than anticipated because I didn’t have a surefire method of recalling all the possible candidates. I worried about the inevitable oversights, including even ones from 2002. I also worried that I’d wind up weighting the list with more old than recent films — a fear that proved to be mainly groundless. The year between 1924 and 2002 for which I listed the fewest titles — five — was 1937. Four other years — 1926, 1939, 1942, and 1945 — yielded only six apiece. The peak year was 1955, with 21 titles. Generally speaking, there was a steady rise through the 50s, a decline in the 60s, then a leveling off: 17 items in the teens, 72 in the 20s, 95 in the 30s, 103 in the 40s, 160 in the 50s, 133 in the 60s, 130 in the 70s, 129 in the 80s, and 125 in the 90s.… Read more »

Five Women Around Utamaro (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 515). — J.R.

Utamaro O Meguru Gonin No Onna (Five Women Around Utamaro)

Japan, 1946

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Dist–Artificial Eye. p.c–Shochiku. p. manager–Toyokazu Murata. sc–Yoshikata Yoda. Based on the novel by Kanji Kunieda. ph–Shigeto Miki. ed–Sintaro Myamoto. a.d–Isamu Motoki. m–Hiseto Osawa, Tamezo Mochizuki. sd. rec–Hisashi Kase.historical adviser–Sonao Kahi. l.p–Minosuke Bando (Kitagama (Utamaro), Kotaro Bando (Seinosuke Koîde), Tanaka Kinuyo (Okita), Kowasaki Hiroko (Oran), Izuka Toshiko (Dayu Tagasode), Kinnosuke Takamatsu (Juzaburo), Shotaru Nakamura (Shizaburo), Minsei Tomimoto (Takemoro), Katsuhisa Yamaguchi (Kisuke), Aitzo Tamasuma (Sobe), Eiko Ohara (Yukie Kano), Kyoko Kusajima (Oman), Kimiko Shirotae (Oshin), Junko Kajami (Maid in Kano Family), Mitsuei Takegawa (Tayu Karauta), Kimie Kawikami (Matsunami), Aiko Irikawa (Shodayu), Junnosuke Hayama, Masao Hori. 3,399 ft. 94 mins. (16 mm.). Subtitles.

Tokyo in the late eighteenth century. Seinosuke Koide, a student at the Kano Art School, is enraged when he discovers in a print shop that the artist Utamaro has written on one of his own prints that even his rough sketchesare “full of life”.… Read more »

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1976, Vol. 43, No. 504. — J.R.

Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox)
West Germany, 1975
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Ce r t–X. dist–Cinegate. p.c–Tango-Film. p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder. p. manager–Christian Hohoff. asst. d–Irm Hermann. sc—Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Hohoff. ph–Mictrael Ballhaus. col–Eastman Colour. ed–Thea Eymèsz. a.d–Kurt Raab. m–Peer Raben. songs–”One Night” by Pearl King, Dave Bartholomew, performed by Elvis Presley; “Bird on the Wire” by and performed by Leonard Cohen. l.p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Fox” Franz Biberkopf), Peter Chatel (Eugen Theiss), Karl- Heinz Böhm (Max), Harry Bär (Philip), Adrian Hoven (Eugen’s Father), Ulla Jacobsen (Eugen’s Mother), Christiane Maybach (Hedwig), Peter Kern (Florist “Fatty” Schmidt), Hans Zandler (Man in Bar), Kurt Raab (Barman Springer),Irm Hermann (Mlle. Chérie de Paris), Barbara Valentin (Max’s Wife), Walter Sedlmayr (Car Dealer), Ingrid Caven (Singer in Bar), (El Hedi Ben Salem (Moroccan), Brigitte Mira (Shopkeeper),Bruce Low (Soldier), Ursula Strätz, Elma Karlowa, Evelyn Künneke, Marquart Bohm, Liselone Eder, Klaus Löwitsch.

11,077 ft.… Read more »

Remembrance of Things Passed: Some Reflections about Moral Agency and Global Synchronicity

Written for Volume 34,  Number 3,  Issue No 135 of the Winnipeg-based Canadian arts journal Border Crossings in Fall 2015 (see below).  — J.R.

Volume 34, Number 3: Painting

 

 

I’m frequently troubled these days by the growing absence of global perspectives in what passes for news and other forms of mainstream discourse in the U.S. — the perpetually shrinking definitions of what we mean by ‘we’.  A good many of the congealed stereotypes of foreign cultures that crop up in both Hollywood blockbusters and Internet chatter — ranging from the notion that ‘the French’ are crazy about Jerry Lewis to the pop images we still have of Latinos, Italians, Russians, Arabs, and Asians in SF blockbusters whenever ‘the world’ has to be represented — can paradoxically be traced back to the 50s and 60s, when the Cold War and all of its most rigid either/or assumptions were still in force. One might suppose that the combined resources of the Internet and digital viewing would widen our cinematic and other cultural reference points rather than shrink them. But the tendency of even respectable, adult media pundits to speak about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in the world at large suggests a metaphysics tailored to the dimensions of a Star Wars saga or a video game, where the cultural givens plunge back even further into the mythical past: Flash Gordon serials and Triumph of the Will from the mid-1930s, Roy Rogers Westerns and airborne World War 2 epics of the mid-1940s.… Read more »

The Way We Weren’t [REBEL HIGHWAY]

From the Chicago Reader (November 18, 1994). — J.R.

 RebelHighway

You can figure out a lot about the differences between our culture and French culture by comparing two current series of low-budget TV features about teenagers. The French series, Tous les garcons et les filles de leur age (“All the Boys and Girls of Their Age”), produced by the French “cultural” channel Arte, has yielded half a dozen features, most of them first-rate. The idea is for the filmmaker to make a fictionalized version of his or her own teenage years set in the appropriate period (different in each film) and to include at least one party scene in which pop songs of that era are used. (The series is financed in part by Polygram, which has furnished the appropriate recordings.) The first of these, Patricia Mazuy’s Travolta and Me, showed at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival; four others were programmed at the festival last month — Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water, André Téchiné’s Wild Reeds, Cedric Kahn’s Too Much Happiness, and Chantal Akerman’s Portrait of a Young Girl From Brussels – but unfortunately the first and best of these was canceled at the last minute. One more, Claire Denis’ Boom Boom [later retitled U.S.Read more »

McCarthy’s Law: Review of IDEAS AND THE NOVEL

This review, from the February 4, 1981 issue of The Soho News, is most likely harsher than it needed to be. Since Mary McCarthy’s death, I’ve been moved to reformulate some of my positions about her after reading the wonderful book Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1995) edited by Carol Brightman, which reveals a side of McCarthy that seems quite contrary to her much better-known bitchiness as a critic. It proves to me that unforeseen and unforeseeable sides of some people tend to come out only in specific relationships with certain other people, and the loving generosity of McCarthy’s letters to Arendt are a particular striking example of this. —J.R.

McCarthy’s Law

Ideas and the Novel
By Mary McCarthy
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $7.95

Despite her wicked way with some words and ideas, Mary McCarthy has never exactly thrilled me with her aesthetics. With a taste stuck so comfortably, nostalgically, even trivially in the prosaic 19th century that even the avant-garde that she values often seems furnished with fog and brass doorknobs à la Doyle, Verne, or Poe, her acute critical intelligence usually whiles away its time polishing statues and suits of armor — rather like the New York Times Book Review — whenever she turns to the Novel.… Read more »

Clip Art

From the Chicago Reader (August 6, 1993). — J.R.

LYRICAL NITRATE *** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Peter Delpeut

VISIONS OF LIGHT: THE ART OF CINEMATOGRAPHY *** (A must-see)

Directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels Written by Todd McCarthy.

I realize it sounds strange to put it this way, but the special pleasures to be found in Lyrical Nitrate -– a 50-minute compilation of fragments of silent films made between 1905 and 1915, showing this Saturday and Sunday at the Music Box -– are closely related to the voyeuristic appeal of pornography, specifically old-fashioned stag reels. The experience of watching these fragments is, like the fragments themselves, fleeting and therefore tantalizing, suggestive and therefore provocative -– and so far off the beaten track of what’s supposed to be viewer friendly in our culture that I’m reminded of J. Hoberman’s speculation in the second edition of Midnight Movies, a book we coauthored: “Imagine if one had to go out at midnight to some seedy theater to see projected tapes of The Simpsons.… Read more »

Czar Babies [Review of Nabokov's LECTURES ON RUSSIAN LITERATURE]

From The Soho News (November 17, 1981). Ironically, this review was originally copyedited rather clumsily, so I’ve tried to restore some of its original logic and meaning. Incidentally, for those who might be interested, my earlier review of Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature for Soho News can be accessed here. — J.R.

Lectures on Russian Literature

By Vladimir Nabokov

Edited and introduced by Fredson Bowers

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95

Compare the book under examination to Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, reviewed in these pages last November. Is Volume II a worthy successor, an arguable improvement, or a distinct letdown? Explain. (Use concrete examples.)

All three. Issued in a uniform edition at the same price, only 50-odd pages shorter -– the jacket Indian-red in contrast to last year’s sky-blue –- the book can be considered a worthy successor. Insofar as it contains meaty selections from what I take to be Nabokov’s supreme act (and work) of literary criticism (not counting his voluminous notes on his translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which I haven’t read) –- namely, his eccentric and indelible Nikolai Gogol, first published by New Directions in 1944 -– it can arguably be deemed an improvement, even over his exhilarating and enlightening lectures on Flaubert and Kafka in the first volume.… Read more »

Mapping the Territory of Râúl Ruiz

Even though much of this early piece of mine about Ruiz (also available in my collection Placing Movies), originally published in separate versions in 1987 and 1990,  is out of date by now, and also incorrect in spots, I’ve decided to reprint and illustrate it here, well over two decades later, because of the way Ruiz inspired me to play various games of my own, as he did several years later when I wrote about him at some length again (here).  (August 2011, shortly after Ruiz’s tragic death, I’ve also updated the illustrations for my 2002 interview with him for Cinema Scope.) — J.R.

Preface

The sheer otherness of Râúl Ruiz in a North American context has a lot to do with the peculiarities of funding in European state-operated television that make different kinds of work possible. The eccentric filmmaker in the United States or Canada who wants to make marginal films usually has to adopt the badge or shield of a school or genre — art film, avant-garde film, punk film, feminist film, documentary, or academic theory film— in order to get funding at one end, distribution, promotion, and criticism at the other. Ruiz, however, needs only to accept the institutional framework of state television — which offers, as he puts it, holes to be filled — and he automatically acquires a commission and an audience without having to settle on any binding affiliation or label beyond the open-ended rubric of “culture” or “education.” Consequently, the sheer existence of Ruiz’s massive, varied work constitutes a genuine affront to the capitalist definitions of experiment governing our own culture.… Read more »

Vietnam, the Theme Park [HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE ]

From the Chicago Reader (January 24, 1992). — J.R.

HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, and Eleanor Coppola

Written by Bahr and Hickenlooper.

A little over a decade ago in an English film magazine I made a rather foolish prediction: “Perhaps by the 90s a sufficient time gap will have elapsed to allow [American] filmmakers to approach the subject of Vietnam in a more detached, balanced, and analytical manner.” Cockeyed optimist that I was, I reasoned that some historical distance would allow certain blank spots in our knowledge and understanding of Vietnam to be filled — not doused in amber and framed in gold while remaining blank spots. I took to heart Ernest Hemingway’s famous declaration in a Paris Review interview: “If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.” I reasoned that the gaping holes in our Vietnam cover story would finally reduce that protective garment to tatters and permit some light to shine through.

Little did I know that the holes themselves would come to be defined as points of illumination — a bit like George Bush’s “thousand points of light” — and would decorate our consciousness like Christmas trees.… Read more »